Putting America first has been the mantra during Donald Trump’s presidency where he’s engaged in trade wars, naming calling, military assassinations, and close to all-out war with other countries.
Trump has criticized China as a currency manipulator, the EU as an unfair trading partner, and of course Iran as a rogue state sponsor of terrorism.
That approach has gained Trump some political traction with disheartened voters that have come to believe that foreign countries have taken advantage of the US through global trade that has shifted production to cheaper labor markets in China and other third world and developing countries at the cost of American jobs.
Even our traditionally-close ties to allies like England, Germany, and other NATO countries have suffered under Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign of withdrawing from international alliances and treaties in favor of a more nationalistic stance of “each man for himself”.
All that may work to Trump’s benefit in a national re-election strategy but many have warned that it could be bad for the US if we had to engage in international coalitions like Operation Desert Storm or in dealing with borderless issues like climate change or natural disasters.
Well, now an unexpected global health crisis may test the bonds that remain between the US and other countries as the world begins to confront what the World Health Organization now thinks is a pandemic illness.
The coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, in December has now spread around the world and has infected over 84,000 people, including 62 confirmed cases in the US. In total, 2,868 people have died.
Although all cases had been tracked to individuals that had traveled to infected areas or had contact with someone that did, now two cases in Northern California this week involved two women that had not traveled or had contact with an infected person, meaning it is spreading indirectly.
The virus is more contagious than the common flu, and has a death rate that’s 20 times higher than the flu we see every year.
When the outbreak was first reported, President Trump responded that the US had the situation under control. Just one week later, Americans were being evacuated from China and held at quarantine centers at several US military bases, including San Diego’s MCAS Miramar.
This week, the US stock market started a freefall decline on Monday that ended with the largest single-day point drop in history on Thursday, just one day after Trump held a press conference that seemed more like a cheerleading session than an update on our government’s response. All three major indexes lost more than 10% this week which is deemed by investors to be in correction territory.
The market declines were in response to financial estimates that manufacturing supply chains are being affected because China is virtually shut down, and other markets where the virus is spreading may see people staying home from work, school and, of course, shopping. Instead of reassuring people that the government is serious about dealing with this potential pandemic, Trump assigned Vice-President Mike Pence and National Economic Council Director Lary Kudlow (a former TV financial commentator), not national health experts, to manage a new “task force” to combat the coronavirus. Today, Pence headed to Florida for a political fundraiser.
The US economy has been propped up during the past year by strong consumer spending which has remained high even as global trade has weakened and manufacturing has slowed. The stock market, up until last week, was hitting record highs as companies expected consumer spending would continue to fuel a healthy economy.
But all that seems to be changing in real-time.
China still has the highest number of reported cases at 78,824, but South Korea has reported 2,337 cases, Italy has confirmed 888 cases, and Iran has reported 388. Even Mexico reported two confirmed cases today.
Iran’s case is particularly concerning because they have experienced the highest death percentage of any country, including 210 that have died so far. Alarmingly, their Vice-President has contracted the virus, and he was at a meeting with their president earlier in the week before being diagnosed, so their two leaders may be infected. Iran’s Deputy Health Minister has also be infected, and the country has shut down its parliament. An outbreak in Iran, which is under heavy trade sanctions imposed by the US, may not be able to coordinate appropriate medical resources to stop a full-blown epidemic.
The US is much better equipped to handle medical emergencies. Our hospitals and infrastructure can withstand large deployments of resources.
But if a large number of Americans get sick and more change their daily habits from work, school, and shopping, that, combined with manufacturing disruptions, could cause a major economic crisis.
A global health crisis like we seem to be entering is one of the many instances were strong international alliances and, more importantly, trust, can help slow or stop a pandemic from being a global health disaster, and a global economic disaster because countries must work together and share expertise, resources, and even financial support. But when even our friends no longer like or trust us, opportunities for common solutions are missed.
Our modern world is an interconnected marketplace, both economically and physically. The jet age allows easy travel around the world and contact between individuals that only a few decades ago may not have ever come in contact with each other. We both consume products from and sell products to the rest of the world.
Turning away from the world with an inward posture is not in our best long term economic interests, and as we see now, not in the best interest of our health.
Our domestic politics should not be so toxic that they damage our relationships with important allies around the world. We may be able to turn our heads away from them, but in the end we can’t simply close our borders and ignore the rest of the world.
A pandemic knows no borders, no colors, and no political parties. We must come together to combat this virus, which may teach us an important lesson so that future health crises can be better controlled when they inevitably come knocking on our doors.